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MIT blogger Alex M. '21

Life on Campus? by Alex M. '21

remastered 2021

I loved living in Macgregor. Every weekday, I woke up at 6, brushed my teeth, and stumbled across Memorial Drive to the boathouse. At 6:30 sharp, clad in sunglasses and head-to-toe rain gear, I yelled at my teammates to start warming up. By 6:50, I would be perched in the coxswain seat of a rowing boat, and we would be gliding away from the dock. Sometimes, we would row long and slow all the way up to Watertown, and even if we were just doing drills, I would take every turn aggressively, yanking the rudder ropes around like it was Head of the Charles. Other days, we would do sprints in the Charles River basin, and I would yell into my mic while trying to keep my MIT crew hat from blowing off in the wind.

I miss eating eggs after practice, monopolizing tables in Baker dining with my teammates, or hogging tables in the Stud01 Student Center Dunkin with my course 16 friends, or lording over the stove in my suite in Macgregor. I miss speed walking to campus, sliding into a seat in 35-225 at 10:05, right on MIT time, ready to take the weekly Unified quiz. I miss complaining about the quiz afterwards with my classmates in the 2nd floor bathroom and then retreating to the Unified lounge, trying to hold a conversation over the sound of the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel being demolished outside.

Most days, I spent my lunch hour in Kendall Square with my friends, talking about problem sets and B entry gossip and rowing and field hockey and ROTC.02 I don't do either of these things, I just know people who do When I was really hosed, I went to Hayden after lunch, climbing the stairs to the 2nd floor and then again to the mezzanine. I sat for hours with my back to the wall, laptop plugged in, and mainlined coffee, grinding out pset problems, gritting my teeth and nodding my head to the shitty indie music playing in my oversized headphones.

Some afternoons, I walked back to Macgregor and rode the elevator up to the B entry main lounge, where people were invariably playing Smash. At golden hour, we would all pause and soak in the beauty all around us, opening our wraparound windows and photographing the Boston skyline and the Charles River eleven stories below. Afterwards, we would return to our video games and psets and afternoon snacks. I spent hours sinking into the couches in the main lounge, alternating rounds of Smash with pretending to do homework, listening to my friends scream about nothing while someone slept curled up in the corner, blissfully unaware of the chaos unfolding around them.

For most of 2019, Macgregor had a mouse problem. The mice lived inside, and they also lived outside, scurrying back and forth through a hole chewed through the wall by the courtyard. Always and forever, Macgregor has had a wind problem. The shape of the building causes the wind to blow hard against pedestrians walking west along Amherst Alley. This is colloquially known as the “wind tunnel.” The wind also spirals in the courtyard, noisy at night. One fateful early morning my junior year, these problems merged briefly, horribly, and beautifully. It was dark and I was about to leave the Macgregor lobby for rowing practice when an arctic blast of wind hit the door, carrying a bunch of dead leaves and also a flying mouse. I yelped as I saw its tail whip past in the predawn darkness. Irrationally nostalgic for things I hate, I miss the wind and the mice and the epically surreal mousenado.

On Tuesday evenings, rather than braving the wind tunnel and returning to Macgregor, I walked back to the boathouse for afternoon practice, drilling in the basin amongst the wind and waves. Freshman and sophomore year, I would trudge back to campus afterwards for a night exam or office hours or a checkoff for 6.0001 or 6.009 or 6.004. I was hungry and desperate and cranky and I hated waiting ninety minutes for a checkoff, but now I’m nostalgic for the academic buildings at night. I miss eating vending machine Doritos and stomping angrily though the empty tunnels. I miss leaving exams certain that I failed,03 Although I <em>numerically </em>failed (scored <60%) many of these exams, I <em>technically</em> passed (got curved up to the A/B/C range) most of them mad at the world and mad at myself. I miss waiting too long for a watery Anna’s burrito, finally choking down dinner at 9 pm.

I miss traveling on the weekends. My freshman year, my rowing team flew to Chicago and then drove to Devil’s Lake State Park to race Wisconsin and BU. My parents lived in Madison and camped with me at Devil’s Lake when I was a baby, so my dad surprised me by flying out to watch my race and also see people and places from his past. The lake was beautiful but dockless, so my boat waded into the icy and yet inexplicably mosquito-filled water to launch for our race. We got absolutely owned, and it was miserably cold, and I would do the whole thing again in a heartbeat — the missed Friday classes, the inconveniently-timed flights, the long van ride, the fried cheese curds at our pre-race dinner, the frigid water, and the bugs. Flying to Wisconsin was a special treat, or an annoying waste of time, depending on who you asked. More often, my team took a Peter Pan bus to a race down in Philly or Princeton or up in Saratoga Springs, eating McDonald’s at rest stops and airdropping memes to each other, and I miss that, too.

When I lived on campus last fall, weekend trips weren’t allowed, and thankfully, I never saw another mousenado. However, I did get to relive some of the everyday experiences I’d missed. I was very happy when Dunkin reopened, and I sat outside with my friends drinking coffee, the morning sun still heavy and low in the sky. My podmates, old friends from B entry, taught me how to play Guitar Hero in Simmons, which isn’t Smash in Macgregor, but it felt spiritually close. I saw my course 16 friends outside or online. We psetted on Zoom and once on the Simmons terrace, but it was windy, and my textbook kept blowing shut.

Last fall, I woke up at 7:30 or 8 instead of 6. Some mornings, I made coffee in my room and read or wrote code for my UROP. Other days, I walked with friends to the Z Center to get COVID tested, and then to Dunkin for breakfast. Those days were good; we would sit outside and talk for hours about classes and our social lives and what our futures might look like, after COVID and after graduation. Eventually, one of us would have to hurry back to Simmons for a Zoom lecture. At lunchtime, I would trek to the Stud and wait in line for takeout. I had never been on the meal plan before, and I didn’t like it. I missed the shared kitchens in Macgregor and the lunch spots in Kendall Square.

After more Zoom lectures in the afternoon, I would pset alone or reopen Zoom for a UROP meeting or a rowing check-in or a study session with friends. Finally, I would eat dinner with my pod on Aidan D. ‘21’s double decker couch, and then we would watch Watchmen or The Boys or old Bionicle ads on YouTube, or we’d play Guitar Hero. Other nights, I would picnic with my girlfriend in the park; we ate a lot of takeout from the Flour behind Simmons. It gets dark early in Cambridge in the fall, and the streetlights would be on by the time we shook the leaves off of our beach towels and headed back towards MIT.

At the start of our last week on campus, rolls of packing tape and stacks of cardboard boxes started to appear on my floor, and I ignored them. Most of my stuff was still in boxes in my closet and clear bins under my bed and a half-full suitcase behind my bookshelf. I hadn’t started packing, but I was almost ready to leave. Eventually, I defrosted my fridge, and gave away the rest of my snacks, and rolled my clothes to fit in my suitcase, and said some goodbyes, and then I flew home to Seattle.

After ten weeks at home, I moved to Somerville. Now, I live in an apartment geographically near campus, but I won’t spend any time on campus. I’m tired of moving around, but honestly, every cross-country move was worth it, including this most recent one. I’m glad I spent last fall eating meals outside the Stud and attending Zoom lectures from a many-windowed Simmons double in the fall, but I really want to cook my own food and be able to work in the kitchen or living room, not just in my bedroom. I feel closer to my family than I did in March 2020, and I’m glad I got to spend so much time with them over the last year. Simultaneously, I’m excited to be in the same time zone as MIT and stop living indefinitely in my parents’ basement.

For the last eleven months, I have felt stuck in limbo. I spent the spring ready to be called back to MIT and the fall ready to be kicked back home, suitcases half-packed in the closet. Now, I’m buying a dresser and unpacking my clothes. As I settle in to my new apartment, putting up posters and hauling empty suitcases down to the basement, thousands of other students, mostly younger than me, are preparing to move to MIT next weekend. I think of them often, and I wish I could beam advice and well-wishes into their heads:

I hope you get closure like I did. I hope you like the food more than I did. I hope you all get vaccinated by the end of April. I hope the students who have been living in the MIT dorms since last March have found small ways of finding permanence and community despite the ever-shifting norms and room assignments you’ve dealt with. I hope the freshmen coming to campus for the first time like the weather and the architecture and the people you’ll meet. I hope the sophomores and juniors who have been away for almost a year reunite safely with all the friends you’ve missed. I hope some of you remember what living in the dorms used to be like, but all of you make new memories. 

The students moving in next weekend will join students already on campus, and together, they will bring MIT into the still-unknowable post-pandemic future. 04 Campus <a href="">life will find a way</a>. It always does.

Meanwhile, outside their windows, and outside my window just a few miles away, the snow will keep falling and freezing and melting. Soon, it will be warm enough to sit out on the balcony, and spring will come, and I’ll still be here, still an MIT undergrad. I’ll be Zooming into lectures and taking baby steps towards independent adulthood, preparing for life after the anticlimax of virtual graduation. The days will drag on, growing longer and hotter, and in June, I’ll watch my name scroll quickly up a screen, and I’ll see my diploma appear in the Blockcerts Wallet app. In September, the days will cool and shorten. I’ll take my AC unit out of the window, and the 2025s will register for their first college classes. Life rattles on.

  1. Student Center back to text
  2. I don't do either of these things, I just know people who do back to text
  3. Although I numerically failed (scored <60%) many of these exams, I technically passed (got curved up to the A/B/C range) most of them back to text
  4. Campus life will find a way. It always does. back to text